1. Business

Bank of America exec highlights corporate giving efforts here ... and missed opportunities

Published Mar. 7, 2014

TAMPA — As head of philanthropic giving for Bank of America, Andrew Plepler oversees doling out $2 billion toward social causes from building affordable housing to feeding the poor to funding teen jobs.

He also oversees the megabank's goal to invest and lend $1.5 trillion in community development projects over a 10-year span.

But, as Plepler pointed out during a visit to Tampa on Thursday, the bank cannot lend as much in Tampa Bay as it can elsewhere.

That's because no Tampa Bay nonprofit organizations have been licensed through the federal Community Development Financial Institutions Program, or CDFI, which has become an increasingly popular way to funnel bank loans toward community projects.

The program allows banks to lend to community-building initiatives that may not qualify for traditional bank loans. Loans in the $25,000 to $50,000 range are typically geared toward three areas: small business, affordable housing and charter schools.

Bank of America has emerged as a major CDFI participant, funneling $1 billion to qualified projects in 27 states from the Northeast to California. But not in Tampa Bay. Though some nonprofits are looking into the program, none has yet to be certified.

"It's a gap here," said Plepler, whose official title is global corporate social responsibility executive and consumer policy executive. "Where there are strong CDFI lenders, they can be very impactful."

Plepler talked about the missed opportunity during a media briefing on the bank's philanthropic programs.

Bill Goede, Tampa Bay president for Bank of America, said each market is given flexibility toward meeting local needs. In the bay area, that means an emphasis on providing meals and building affordable housing. In that vein, Bank of America has donated more than 20 homes, acquired through foreclosure, to be used as Habitat for Humanity homes. It's also taken a rare role for a bank as developer of the emerging Encore residential complex near downtown Tampa.

Since 2004, the bank also has trained more than 60 CEOs and emerging executives of Tampa Bay nonprofits through its "neighborhood builders" program.

Terrance McAbee, president and CEO of the Homeless Emergency Project, said the training he received was invaluable in helping him learn how to run his Clearwater-based charity as a business.

As an outgrowth of a church-centered effort, his group had thought it was virtuous to stay "humble" and relatively quiet about its work helping the homeless find shelter, clothing and other support. Tapping the bank's advice, McAbee rebranded the company and organized a PR campaign, helping it double its donor base from 6,000 to 12,000.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or